HL Deb 12 December 1973 vol 347 cc1177-80

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, the Home Secretary is making a Statement in another place. With your Lordships' permission, I will now repeat it.

"Under the provisions of the Emergency Powers Act 1920 the Proclamation made on November 13 will expire at midnight to-night together with the Regulations made in pursuance of that Proclamation.

"In view of the fact that there has been no resolution of the disputes affecting the coal and electricity supply industries, that there is continuing uncertainty in the supply of oil and that there is now an additional serious threat to the essentials of life of the community as a result of the dispute affecting the railways, the Government consider that it is necessary that a further Proclamation and further Regulations should now be made.

"With the addition of the transitional provision of Regulation 41, the Regulations are in the same form as those laid before Parliament on November 13 and will come into force at midnight to-night.

"The House will recall that the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act 1973 enables my right honourable friend to introduce most of the measures necessary to reduce the consumption of energy in its various forms. I apologise to the House that it has not yet been possible to amend the standard set of Emergency Regulations, so as to eliminate the overlap between the Regulations and that Act. Nevertheless my right honourable friend does not propose to make new use of the powers in the Emergency Regulations where the powers under the 1973 Act are adequate.

"My right honourable friend the Leader of the House will announce to-morrow the arrangements for debating the Motions on the Address and on the Regulations.

"As always, use of the emergency powers will be limited to measures necessary in the public interest."

My Lords, that concludes the Home Secretary's Statement.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be grateful if the noble Lord the Leader of the House will give us some indication as to when we shall have an opportunity to discuss this matter. We did greatly facilitate the progress in this House, as we usually do, of the Emergency Regulations, but I think the time is coming when some of us will wish to probe how far the Government themselves have contributed to the seriousness of the present situation.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that Statement, we all deeply regret the disputes which have arisen and are continuing. It is our hope that such disputes may be settled quickly. May we assure the noble Lord the Leader of the House that we on these Benches will do our utmost to facilitate action towards the settlement of these disputes, and we note that the emergency powers to which he has referred will be used only, as always, when they are necessary in the public interest.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those words which I believe should be in all our minds: that these powers are used very sparingly indeed. The Proclamation which has been made to-day continues the State of Emergency which has applied for the last four weeks. It did not seem right to the Government in the present circumstances that these powers should be relinquished, and I believe that all of your Lordships will agree with that. I would say, in reply to the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, that, subject to discussions with the usual channels, it is proposed to debate the Motion on the Address and on the Regulations next 'Tuesday, December 18.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this is the sixth State of Emergency that has been brought in since this Government came into power? It is unparalleled in British political history for a Government to do this six times in the life of one Parliament. Does he not think that it all arises from the pernicious Industrial Relations Act?


My Lords, if the noble Lord thinks that, he is oversimplifying what is a very complicated and difficult situation. This is a continuation of the State of Emergency which has existed for four weeks.


My Lords, I am glad that the Government have renewed the emergency powers and I am glad that we are going to debate the subject next week. Will the noble Lord bear in mind that a very large number of people in this country think that we are now facing the most serious economic situation that we have faced since, in my view, 1947, with an extreme probability of very serious unemployment and disruption of production and the balance-ofpayments situation. I think that when we debate this it would be of enormous help if the Government could tell the country, which I think they have not yet done, how serious the situation might well be.


My Lords, there is no inclination on behalf of the Government to underestimate the seriousness of the situation. There will be opportunities in both Houses to debate both the situation and the economic aspects on which the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, speaks with such authority. I certainly take to heart the message he has given to-day.


My Lords, would my noble friend bear in mind, when we come to have this debate, that it should not be on purely Party political lines? I think that the nation would expect this House to reflect the seriousness of all those who are dedicated to democracy in solving this problem. I wonder whether the moment is not arriving when discussions should be initiated across the Floor in this House and in another place to consider what measures are necessary to restore democratic rule within the trade union movement. It cannot be in the interests of the nation that a small minority dedicated to the destruction of democracy in the trade union movement, and ultimately in Parliament as well, should be able to dominate the great majority. There must be an opportunity at some time when the great majority should be allowed to stand up and be counted.


My Lords, may I ask the Leader of the House whether it is his wish that the House should order that there be a debate? The Opposition are behaving with very great restraint. There are a lot of points we should like to put to the Government. If the supporters of the noble Lord choose to make suggestions of that kind, I think that we ought to consider debating it here and now, but I hope that we shall do it at the proper time; namely, next Tuesday.


My Lords, may I ask how the Government propose to maintain order if communications break down?


My Lords, as I have said there will be an opportunity to debate this matter next week; our normal practice is to have a debate on the Address and on the Regulations themselves. There will also be a debate in another place in which my right honourable friends who have responsibilities in the economic and energy fields will be taking part. When we have the debate I am sure that it will be the interests of the country, rather than any particular political Party or any organised group, which we shall keep firmly in the front of our minds.